Tagged: acoustic

Portable Crocodiles

A moody, sullen collaboration is what we’d expect when Miguel A García and Nick Hoffman play together, which is what Vile Cretin (INTONEMA INTO010) delivers across four tracks of seething desolation. In terms of what I’ve heard from either of these players, it’s one of the more three-dimensional improvised efforts, by which I mean the elements are distanced and positioned in ingenious manner, perhaps using skilled studio placement techniques, to suggest vast depths and enormous spaces. There may not be much happening in the aural department other than surly crackles and nameless echoing whimpery whispers, but they are happening in a fabulously resonant manner. Their two personalities, as far as I understand these enigmatic creators, can be discerned manifesting themselves on the album to some degree, for instance I’d like to think that Garcia brought the bad tempered sulking aspects to track 01, while Hoffman’s penchant for steely and imperceptible anti-sounds has dominated track 02. But the pair succeed in creating unusual sound art that is more than the sum of their personal characteristics, and it’s a fine slow-moving broodster of electrical gloomery. Of course, Hoffman’s surreal and violent cover drawings, this time printed in a sumptuous red, may give you a completely different impression of the work. From 29 November 2013.

Coen Oscar Polack and Herman Wilken paint two landscapes in sound on their Fathomless LP (NARROMINDED NM064); one side depicts the Barents Sea, the other side a green wilderness in the Sundarbans. And my goodness, what a very literal job they make of it; the first side is sluggish ambient drone spread thickly with sound effects that imitate the sound of the ocean tides and Arctic winds in a highly prosaic manner. The “jungly” side is peppered with bird-song effects, and hazy drones attempting to invoke shimmering heat of the baking sun. Atmospheric and pleasant, but not very imaginatively done; it’s one step away from being a BBC Sound Effects record. From November 2013.

Haven’t heard from The Magic Carpathians Project for some years, but they sent us a couple of interesting items which arrived 11 November 2013. On T.A.M. (WORLD FLAG RECORDS WFR 043), the duo of Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski are joined by Tomasz Holuj for five extended group improvisations, which they describe as “symbiotic music”. I suppose the term “symbiotic” is another way of highlighting the dependencies that can grow between musicians who play together. The Carpsters have made a name for themselves over the years, on account of their unique way of extending the traditional musics of Eastern Europe by blending them with Indian music, free jazz, radio waves, and the unusual singing styles of Anna Nacher. At one point it seemed like they were going down quite well with your latterday psychedelica revivalist types, and they enjoyed an association with the American label Drunken Fish Records – home to many freaky wild-eyed droners in the late 1990s and early 2000s. T.A.M. seems to be more in the area of traditional music, being mainly acoustic and featuring a lot of percussion instruments, but it’s also very strong on ethereal droning effects and unusual stringed instruments, and the music they create is extremely original and hard to pin down. The trio just keep on playing, wailing, hammering and droning in a deceptively gentle mode, doing little to vary the mood, tempo or root note for long periods of time, until a species of greyed-out Nirvana is attained. Not an immediate “grabber”, but your listening perseverance will pay off. I think the recordings are all live, there’s no overdubbing and the mixing was done in real time. Released on their own label World Flag Records. My copy has a nice original artwork insert.

On Vtoroi (MIKROTON CD 25), we have the team-up of two Russian heavyweights – the most estimable Ilia Belorukov, and Kurt Liedwart, who is in fact Vlad Kudryavstev and the owner of Mikroton Records who released this sulky brooder of contemporary improvisation. On these 2012 sessions, Belorukov is playing a prepared saxophone, an iPod, contact mics and objects – in short, the sort of setup I used to associate with the “EAI” school of improvisers; at any rate I recall that Günter Müller frequently used an iPod as part of his live processing. Liedwart brings his field recordings and objects to the table, along with ppooll, a program which appears to be some sort of networking bridge that works with certain implementations of Max/MSP. The majority of this record is a bit too under-eventful for me on today’s spin, particularly the long track ‘Ikkemesh’ with its hissing, beeping, and long periods of uncertain rustling and clunking, but I’m very taken with ‘Antra’, which is a nice extended slab of grumbly white noise mixed up with other scuzzy layers, and containing just the right amount of semi-musical content to keep it interesting. It gives off a mood of existential futility. The duo sustain this taut position for over ten minutes, as if performing painful physical exercise, and probably gazing into the mirror with blank expressions the while. Kurt also did the cover art, showing some Stephen O’Malley influence in overlaying a found photograph with geometric shapes. From 6th November 2013.

The Loving Tongue

JULY191

Here’s the latest outburst of mean-spirited evil acoustic gittarring hoodoo from Bill Orcutt, the guitarist from Harry Pussy who caused such a stir when he resurfaced from a long silence armed with an acoustic guitar so fierce that you could hear the very grain of the wood when he played it in his angry, restless and atonal way. On A History Of Every One (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 173) the ferocity that I seem to recall from 2009’s A New Way To Pay Old Debts may have mollified by one or two degrees, allowing us better to concentrate on Orcutt’s curious approach where he mixes primitive blues/country idioms with a very strong bent on modernistic free improvisation, so that he continues to comes across as a more forceful and grumpier version of John Fahey inhabited by a ghostly variant of Sonny Sharrock with thin reedy fingers clutching the neck like a lifeline. The sensation of hearing many poltergeists channelled through a single physical entity is reinforced by Orcutt’s eerie vocalisings on this record, which aren’t really singing so much as the sort of weird wailing that most great jazz pianists use, in what I had always assumed was a sort of guide-track to keep their keys in tune with the melody and their body in time with the swing. If you scope the back cover of this release you’ll see a clutch of titles that reflect either an appreciation of primitive swamp blues (‘Black Snake Moan’, ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’, ‘Massa’s in the Cold Cold Ground’) or allude to standards from the American songbook of Grade-A schmaltz, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ and ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ 1. And ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ may be intended as another nod in Fahey’s direction, viz. Fare Forward Voyagers or any of his works which hinted at his love-hate relationship with the Christian faith. However, as you will hear when he plays these tunes, they are by no means cover versions that remain faithful to their sources, and that’s putting it mildly, nor do they dwell in any known blues modes for more than five seconds at a time. While we’re looking at the cover, note how stark and unadorned it be with its sans-serif fonts and no images. Orcutt’s White Album, without a doubt. From October 2013.

JULY192

Another strong record from the Norwegian trio Cakewalk who we last heard with their 2012 debut album Wired; they use synths, guitars, bass and drums to produce excellent improvised instrumental work, situated somewhere more or less in the area of avant-garde rock music, but enriched with plenty of ideas, innovation, and just sheer tough-mindedness driving every note, plus a great approach to making records that ensures clarity, depth, and a straight left to the jaw for every listener. Stephan Meidell, Øystein Skar and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad work hard to escape cliché and over-familiar sounds, and they can be quite indignant if ever challenged about their supposed “resemblance” to any given band or genre of music: “chances are we’ve never listened to them”, they assert, when presented with a music journalist’s review studded with lists of references. For the most part, Transfixed (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2526) has a sombre and heavy approach in the performances which I would liken to holding a conversation with a troupe of heavy-set tattooed wrestlers who have somehow been awarded professorial chairs at a school of advanced study, and who now hold no truck with dissenters as they lecture from the podium on their chosen subjects with gravity and authority. This is especially true of the relentless chugging motion of ‘Ghosts’, a piece of music whose stern aspect is only slightly leavened by a surface of decorative electronic trills used about as sparingly as silver balls on a miser’s birthday cake; and the controlled hysteria of ‘Swarm’, which could be used to provoke a riot in any given crowded situation, for example the New York stock exchange floor. ‘Bells’ is trying a shade too hard to be more likeable, and in places could be mistaken for a media-friendly arthouse movie soundtrack, and ‘Dive’ is a misguided attempt to do the ‘bleak ambient’ thing, which this trio are not suited for; they’re just too loquacious for effective minimalism. But the remainder, ‘Dunes’ and especially the dour title track, deliver just the right tone of steely menace, all set to a thrilling rock beat. From 07 October 2013.

  1. That last title is its own double-edged sword; it famously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South, the kitschy 1946 movie which has since been frowned upon, for what are now perceived as racist themes.

The Deaf That Hath Ears

JUNE124

Gabriel Saloman might be better known to you as GMS, one half of the estimable Yellow Swans with Pete Swanson. Since that band’s demise and Swanson utilising his production and mastering skills to become the Trevor Horn of the underground noise world, the Vancouver musician Gabriel has been pursuing his solo career with releases like Soldier’s Requiem (MIACD026) which is released on the Norwegian label Miasmah Recordings. An assured and confident statement of abject gloom, it starts out very boldly with the lengthy and interminable ‘Mine Field’, a tune which sets the tone of deep melancholy and slow-motion despair, with its aching piano chords, layers of plangent violin tones, and carefully-placed discordant ambient murk rumbling menacingly in the background. As mine fields go, this resembles a long slow tracking motion by a 16mm movie camera passing over Passchendaele by the time the engines of war have finished carving deep ruts in the surface of the earth. This “military” theme continues with ‘Boots on the Ground’, where a long dreary march through mud is conveyed by the rainfall sound effects and the deeply miserable guitar solo murmuring its plaint into a reverb chamber. If Saloman ever played a duet with Michel Henritzi, I expect their combined efforts would have a profound effect on the world’s weather systems, and it would never stop raining. ‘Cold Haunt’, the album’s closing track, builds up to a dramatic symphonic finish of sorts, the mixed minor keys and layers of stringed instruments producing emotive sensations that are almost too painful to endure. The cover art confirms the musical anti-war themes, not least with its skull-headed violin player reminding us of the fragility of human flesh, but also with its suffused monochrome tones which exactly match the pitch of this musical statement. Superfluous to add this beautiful record sounds like no Yellow Swans record I ever heard, and perhaps Saloman’s introverted and sensitive side was being stifled in among all the abrasive and distorted guitar-rock rhythms. From 26 September 2013.

JUNE125

More items from the Norwegian label Van Fongool which arrived 27 September 2013. The trio As Deafness Increases have made a very impressive piece of focused, poised, quiet improvised music for their eponymous album (VAFCD007). The bassist Inga Margrete Aas, the guitarist Rudolf Terland Bjørnerem and the trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø manage to lock together perfectly as musicians, although as an alternative to “locking” perhaps a more apposite verb might be one that describes the actions of live sponges curling around each other in a ritual undersea dance which we’ll never see, and which amazes the local seahorses and other marine life. To begin with the players are not afraid to make sounds that we can hear, which is always a good start. While I hate to use this clichéd thinking about the role of the bass in a trio, the bass of Aas does indeed create the “skeleton” around which the others can wrap their fleshy blobs, and she achieves this by leaving large, intuitive gaps in her playing, suggesting twice as much volume by the use of silent space. I’m full of sculpting metaphors today; Inga Margrete Aas creates the armature. Nørstebø is good with the abstracted breathy rasps, generating the hoped-for sensations of mysterious snakes at work on the marble floor, but when he strikes a recognisable note he blasts forth with the chilly passion of a distant ship’s horn on a cold foggy night. Lastly we have the very versatile Bjørnerem whose “electro-acoustic guitar” contributes tuneful droney strum effects as well as the spiky forlorn notes that stab the air like the tongues of spiteful insects. I suppose the 20-minute ‘Svalbard’ is the shiniest example of their subtle craft, a slow and inscrutable piece which showcases a wide range of their effects, but also one which grows and shifts in a wholly natural fashion, coming close to creating a satisfying thought-through statement in music and almost restoring our faith in the power of free improvisation. But the other cuts have much to recommend them, such as the growly low-frequency rumblings of ‘Adib’, and the poignant clashes of long tones on ‘Adic’, one which prog fans might easily mistake as a lost improvised set between Fripp, Wetton, and David Cross in 1973. I like the first half of ‘Adia’ too, which is dominated by a gorgeous episode of “riffing” from Bjørnerem until it changes tack midway through, meandering down a lonely and distant corridor into ethereal nothingness. I see the bassist is now signed to ECM Records as one half of Vilde&Inga, while Bjørnerem has one album out on Editions Wandelweiser. Very good.

Inside Outside: a soaring ethereal voice above psych-folk electronica and abstract improv

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Source: http://sygilrecords.bandcamp.com/

Aurora Dorey Alice, Inside Outside, Sygil Records, cassette 013 (2013)

A gorgeous if sometimes slightly sinister and deranged psych-folk offering with a split personality  is to be found on this release from the increasingly eclectic Sygil Records which among other things has proffered black and doom metal recordings and industrial drone art. The first half of the album, the “Inside” part partakes heavily of glitch and fuzz electronica and woozy, zonked-out wash effects; the second “Outside” half drinks in found nature sounds and sparse abstract improv. Whether you like your music to be outdoors or indoors, one thing you’ll surely fall in love with is Aurora Dorey Alice’s voice which at times is floaty and ethereal, and at other times assertive and soaring above the often intangible and dreamy music.

I have to confess I’m more of an “indoors” gal here: the electronic soundtrack is gentle and slightly fizzy in sound and texture, dreamy in mood, and very other-worldly and shimmery overall. “Master / Apprentice” is a strong opening track that sets the tone for the rest of “Inside” to follow; indeed, it might just be the strongest piece on the whole album. The rest of the cassette is no bunch of slouching footnotes though. “Rain” is as close to country-western as ADA comes with its fast chugging-train rhythm and ADA’s own enraptured faux-Nashville vocal.

On the “Outside” half, the music is more acoustic and does not showcase ADA’s singing at all which is a bit disappointing because it’s her voice that really stands out on this recording. Here, the music could almost be one of many hundreds of live instrumental improv releases with flutes, found sounds and a not-too clear idea of where all the musicians are supposed to be going. It’s as if having found themselves out in the warm sunshine, the musicians decided to have a party and a snooze as well but not necessarily in strict alphabetical order of making music, partying and snoozing.

Nevertheless what we do get from ADA is to be treasured indeed: in range her singing straddles the divide between reality and the universe beyond, which already is far, far more than can be said for the current crop of mainstream female pop singers. I’m going to risk lying my head on the guillotine block and say ADA will be a significant influence on future female singers to come, even if her career does not turn out the way it should.

Anecdotal Evidence

ANECDOTES

Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka
The Anecdotes
NETHERLANDS ANECDOTAL RECORDS ANEC01 LP (2012)

Armed only with a vintage Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and a mixed bag of brass and percussion, Anecdotal Records head honcho Seamus Cater, Viljam Nybacka and their chums Shahzad Ismaily, Jeff Carey and Eiríkur Orri Ólafson present a beautiful set of subterranean soul searching sad songs.

In the same way as a douser searches for water with nothing more than a pair of divining rods, Cater unveils epic songwriting from the barest means. Despite years living in the Netherlands, Cater’s voice, despite not being completely free of inflection or Essex / East-End mannerism 1 is, however, engaging and clear and this is to his obvious advantage because the stories he’s got to tell on this record are certainly worth listening to.

The content of each presents a starting point for fruitful and fascinating research if you’re that way inclined. Cater’s publicity, I suspect, will probably wax lyrically about his British folk music family roots and the weight of such a history – I am aware that there is a contemporary resurgence of interest in British folk revivalism by our nation’s more broadminded youth but I’m not sure that this is essential to the existence of this record. In demonstration of his own contemporary folk-music credentials, Cater’s previous output has included a touring project with experimental banjo artiste Uncle Woody Sullender which resulted in a record on Dead Ceo called When We Get to Meeting.

One thing I must commend Mr Cater on is bringing the fascinating and obscure 1970s conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader to my attention on his very first song. He goes on to document the notable parts of another five historic figures’ lives to edifying effect. He does this in a poetic way with his lyrics and with the stripped back arrangements he employs on the limited palette of instruments. You get the feeling that every recorded sound is given much thought – Cater even employs a man – Jeff Carey – whose sole job on ‘Bas Jan Ader’ is simply stated as “reverb”.

‘Bas Jan Ader’ could be as much about Donald Crowhurst, another lone sailor who disappeared at sea six years before Jan Ader. Minimal Rhodes and drums. The line “…the second half of the trilogy / was to be left incomplete” refers to the fateful voyage being part of an unfinished piece of work by Jan Ader. Cater is indeed a skilled wordsmith albeit blessed with a slightly mannered vocal style; on the line “blow, blow the man down”, he sounds like he’s got a mouthful of soft fruit. On the end, the Morse Code for “Mayday!” is played on one-finger reed organ.

On the next track, ‘Muybridge Last Stand’, the duo utilise jaunty Rhodes piano paired with a muted trumpet. Cater has written some nice wonky lines like “when we touch / I’m such / a klutz”. The trumpet and horns are written and performed by Eiríkur Orri Ólafson.

Cater states ‘The Folk Music’ is about Ewan MacColl and the 50s-60s folk revival. Vocals and Rhodes only to start. This puts me in mind of an obscure uk band called Red Peal from the early 2000s who used a similar format to great effect. An accordion joins in. and a ukulele? Cater sings “who found the folk music? / who sang the folk music? / who made the folk music?” This prompts the question what exactly does Seamus Cater stand for? Is he a folk archaeologist or is he just interested in the trend for imagined neo-folk utopias?

The first track on side two is ‘Early Riser’. This one is about the ever-popular Salford painter LS Lowry. Cater can’t help but put in a dab of humour and a stroke of irony; “…I died nineteen six seventy / And Salford ain’t a place you want to be / But I heard they got / A new gallery”. While on the third track ‘The Piano’, “…Prokofiev was reportedly trying to outlive Stalin but didn’t manage…”

It is perhaps a bold move to release something like this in today’s market – i.e. a truly meaningful, understated yet emotional and personal version of popular song in an age of massive-scale live television trial by ordeal, such as X-Factor and The Voice not to mention the heinous new Westlife album and so forth. There’s a beautiful double-tracked harmony on the line “…you have been selected…” on ‘The Softest Horns’. Cater enunciates in a similar way to Syd Barrett or Robert Wyatt – I don’t mean he sounds anything like these singers – they all sing in their own voice/accent/dialect/whatever; not in the way you’re “supposed to” these days.

Vinyl edition of 500 of which this one in front of me is number 52, and includes a digital copy download code.

  1. At the time of writing, this could be said to be on-trend in popular song post Kate Nash.

Cults Percussion Ensemble (self-titled): a mix of kitsch and sublimely dreamy music

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Cults Percussion Ensemble, self-titled, Trunk Records, JBH046CD (reissued 2012)

A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.

Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.

“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.

For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.

A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.

Action Vision

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You may recall we reviewed the lovely music of Neil Luck in October 2012, the London composer who gave us Last Wane Days, a truly unique operetta baroque-pop chamber piece – a real surprise for many a powdered wig. He also appeared with one cut on the GoldDust compilation for Slightly Off Kilter records. Luck it was who sent us Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms (SQUIB-BOX NO NUMBER), received here 13 March 2013, and another uniquely somehow very English piece of wailery and squealation it doe bee. As you can tell I am already lapsing into a Jacobean-era style of writing and speaking, a transformation I considereth most appte when hearing these sodden wood-panelled pieces of musicke, as I sitte beside the fire and peepe dartingly out of a small latch window. These airres fitte for the eares of our right royalle King were played by Tom Jackson the clarinettist, with the viola player Benedict Taylor ever by his side. Both are improvisers and performers well respected about the towne, and indeed have likewise found success beyond the seas. For many pieces the players doe buzz and humme at a frantic rate, as though pursued by two tigers from Oriental parts, or else find themselves besette with unwanted small insects crawling about in their nether garments. My advice would be to wear an iron codpiece and so preserve themselves from The Enemy. Also of interest are the different timbres and acoustic qualities, which vary from track to track; perhaps the titles indeed reflect the real-world locations for their performances. If so, most sensitive to the space of a chamber they have proven themselves. No man can listen and remain unmoved at such delicious sounds; barking, crying, hooting and issuing many a plaintive mew, both raising dreadfull clamours to the skies. The duo perform roped together like two sailors on board a shipload of tobacco, and communicate by unseen means that inform their every thought and move. In fine, most high recommendation for this moving and delightful recording. Now I must needs return to gutting my fish from Cheapside market, ere I expire from hunger.

ReverseAge

From 11 March 2013 we received a glorious eccentric and fiery recording of avant-rock solo antics by GR (i.e. Gregory Raimo from France). What an axeman he’s proving himself on these solid high-volume grooves. I’d like to meet his tailor. His A Reverse Age (MEXICAN SUMMER MEX140) is a glorious blast of psychedelic rockabilly noise, the musical fabric cut to shreds by his nasal poison vocalising which mows down eight beds of precious flowers and causes entire trees to wither and die with just one billow from Raimo’s diabolical breath. With his ‘Hymn to Pan’ and his ‘The Primitive Hoodoo’ he owns himself a willing convert to the anti-religion of The Cramps, while his thudding drumming style and raw recording approach fuel the excitement to boiling pitch. The highlight though is his rich and juicy guitar style, often-times heavily psychedelic and reminiscent of Gary Ramon of Modern Art / Sun Dial (or the glorious obscurity Jesse Harper). Fans of Alan Vega and The Fall from circa 1980-1981 should devour this flaming nugget at tremendous speed, using crocodile jaws to chew the slabs of meat. Excessive and flailing adjectives abound on the press release, describing this wild trip as an “argument between myth and reality”, but such unhinged language and frothing praise is quite justifiable in the face of this rockin’ gemuloid.

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Here’s the scrapey improviser Tim Olive with another release on the 845 Audio label sent to us from Kobe in Japan on 21 March 2013. He was carrying a metal pail full of old rusty bolts at the time. On Various Histories (845 AUDIO 845-2) he teams up with Katsura Mouri, a fabulously talented sound artist who works with turntables which are doctored with “prepared records”, percussive objects and pieces of metal. She’s been a member of BusRatch, DOOG, and herviviennestrap, but also performs solo and in 2009 she toured with other contemporary turntable manipulators eRikm, Martin Tetreault and Ignaz Schick; and has assembled a cunning multiple turntable set-up, like Philip Jeck used. This is the first I ever heard of Mouri, but I love her delicate approach; there’s none of the heavy-handedness, violence or sarcasm one sometimes finds with your basic turntabling types – present company excepted, of course – who seem intent on smashing the device, breaking records, or trying to single-handedly destroy the history of recorded music through the symbolic annihilation of this culturally-loaded (as they would see it) machine. Instead she works most sympathetically here with Tim, who plays pieces of metal amplified with guitar pickups, to create five intense pieces of heavily abstracted grey rumbly sound, rich with plenty of low bass grumbles and growls, most of the music hovering gracefully on the twilight zone where it might erupt into vicious anti-social table noise at the turn of a feathered cable. However, it never actually does that, and instead suffuses all emotions into this slowly-bubbling green soup of seething restraint. One listen to this shimmery-abraso beauty and I’m head over heels with Katsura Mouri’s playing style, now tempted to seek out her 2000 and 2002 BusRatch records for PARA discs.

Death Zoo

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The Invisible Hands (ABDUCTION ABDT050) made a fine self-titled album of songs from Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls; he goes under his Alvarius B. alias for this Egyptian project, which took about two years to complete and features various sidemen from Cairo, where it was recorded. Bishop wrote and sings all songs and plays most of the instruments (guitars, keyboards, percussion) backed by Cherif El Masri, Magued Nagasti, Aya Hemeda and Sam Shalabi. Bishop is also responsible for the no-nonsense production of the album – mostly acoustic, dry and crisp sound, no frills, no pedal effects. This spare framework gives us a bare stage, the better to showcase the bang-on precision of the players, and also to bring home the full impact of his songs’ content. When Alvarius B. recorded with Cerberus Shoal in 2002, no maiden’s blush was spared as he dredged up gory, nightmarish images from the deepest buckets of his Id. Well, not especially wackoid surreal lyrics on this occasion, but as ever the content is tinged with dark horrors flapping at the edges like vile bats on periphery of vision. It’s hard to pinpoint any specific nastiness in the words, yet by the end of three minutes you’re walking away unnerved and jumpy. His “patented sinister style” is most evident in the singing; at best, he sounds impatient and twitchy, as if spoiling for a fight. At worst, ready to flare up into unexpected violence at the drop of a flick-knife. His lips curl sardonically around each tune and supply this undercurrent of menace, even when the melody and chords can be quite sweet; the song ‘Dream Machine’ might as well be sung by the dark brother of Frank Sinatra crooning an inverted Perry Como song in a Hellish cocktail bar dive. The clean production puts all of this implied malevolence in clear focus, and leaves the listener very little room to hide; you feel like Alvarius B. has his beady eye fixed on you throughout. All sung in English here, though apparently there’s also a version of the entire release with all the lyrics sung in Arabic, exclusively available to the Middle East market. Sumptuous cover art from the graffiti of Alaa Awad. From 11 March 2013.

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In same package we received a Sun City Girls compilation called Eye Mohini (ABDUCTION RECORDS ABDT049), volume three in a series which rounds up assorted seven-inches and rarities by this unique and unclassifiable band. Recorded between 1986 and 1993, here are 14 glimpses into an overheated hashish world of scaryifing Eastern unfamiliarity. Most of these were originally released on their own Majora Records label, around the time of the amazing Torch of the Mystics and Dawn of the Devi LPs, and represent a time when the band were playing around with “Arabic guitar instrumentals” and “pseudo-Asian vocal folk styles”; 1993’s ‘Kickin’ The Dragon’ is one such, a rendition so accurate that you’d easily mistake it as a refugee from one of their Sublime Frequencies compilations. As such, the comp is mostly acoustic rather than “rock music”, although a few tracks such as ‘It’s Ours’ or the long live track ‘Soar / The Flower’ will satisfy your thirst for the crazed and unpredictable “Death to Jerry Garcia” styled guitar jamming this trio could execute while spinning sideways on their whirling Sufi asses 1. Like the Alan Bishop record above, it’s also got its vaguely threatening undercurrents (I always feel if I fail to listen to their music “correctly”, then I’ll invoke the wrath of Kali upon my head), but it also possesses a lot of the Sun City Girls’ dark humour and sense of the absurd, an aspect which I think they always undertook with perfect seriousness; they played their pranks for keeps. I wasn’t even aware of this reissue project (the other two volumes came out in 2008 and 2009) but then I never had any realistic hopes of being a “completist” when it comes to hoovering up every last scree of this band’s considerable output. Given rarity and high prices of original Majoras these days, this CD is most welcome.

  1. This gag adapted from a catalogue entry by Stefan Jaworzyn.

Are You Experienced

Jean Dubuffet
Expériences Musicales De Jean Dubuffet (II)
GERMANY RUMPSTI PUMSTI (MUSIK) EDITION NUMMER 13 2 x CD + BOOK (2012)

Long overdue notice for this fine double-CD set of the strange music of Jean Dubuffet which we’ve had here in the boxes since late 2012. If you’re keen on the visual arts then chances are you’ll have heard of Dubuffet as an early champion of what has since come to be called “outsider art”. Along with Ernst, Klee and others he was among the first 20th century artist to take note of pictures produced in insane asylums (which had probably been ignored or dismissed by society), but more to the point he developed a very convincing and passionate aesthetic in support of what he called “Art Brut”. I recall when I first read one of his essays on the subject, and I must have experienced some sort of epiphany. He was proposing a radical rethink, not only of our art-appreciation senses, but of the very meaning of humanity, society, and the purpose of art within it. I’ve always admired Dubuffet’s no-nonsense “all or nothing” stance on this matter; likewise his own impasto paintings, which were almost visual manifestations of his polemic, powerful and burning images that cut directly to the heart of the brain in highly forceful ways. A lot of people probably thought he was embracing ugliness for the sake of it, as part of a concerted post-war effort to overthrow everything we knew about conventional beauty. The truth is he was trying to reconnect us all to our own human-ness in the most direct and primal manner possible. It’s not too far-fetched to consider that Dubuffet’s aesthetic was paving the way for Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, The Residents, and any number of our favourite outsider / self-taught / naive musicians.

Dubuffet clearly applied this very direct attitude to everything he did in his art and his life, if this record is anything to go by. Everything here was recorded over some months around 1960-1961, which means that th’ Buffster would’ve been about 60 years old at the time – his fiery passion for raw innovation and experimentation still undimmed. He did it with the help of his friend, the painter Asger Jorn, who in fact initiated the sessions of improvised music round at his house. Both the act of creating the music, and capturing it on a tape recorder, were approached in Dubuffet’s very hands-on style, just wading in there and doing it. They weren’t absolute amateurs, it seems, and the notes here reveal that Jorn was fairly well practiced with the violin and trumpet, and Dubuffet was calling on his childhood piano lessons to stand him in good stead on the near-defunct piano they were using. Out of tune and in need of repair, this old keyboard clearly fit the bill for the plan. They both instinctively knew these sessions were not about “virtuosity”, and they scurried off in pursuit of liberated and weird sounds. They used acoustic instruments – piano, cello, trumpet and recorder, then gradually added other instruments with which they weren’t familiar, including obscure and outmoded devices, folk instruments, and ethnic instruments. Easy enough to observe some parallels with Sun Ra and his Strange Strings experiments here, and I expect I’m not the first glib pundit to have done so…At the same time, Dubuffet makes it clear that he had zero knowledge of modern composition, nor what would come in time to be called “free improvisation”. Part of the art brut deal is remaining “untainted” by too much cultural knowledge, which is why shut-ins and introverts do it so well.

The tape recordings themselves were also primitive and amateurish. Dubuffet did them himself, using non-professional equipment, and freely admits he had no idea about “correct” microphone placement. As such, he embraced accidents and welcomed the grunginess of bad reproduction. He was often delighted when the machine played back odd sounds that he hadn’t intended to record. And he developed a crude editing method using scissors and tape, and extremely limited playback facilities; which in turn evolved into an even cruder overdubbing technique of some sort, allowing him to record multiple instances of his instruments and become an “art brut” version of a one-man band. Later he kinda admitted defeat and added a second tape recorder and a mixing desk to this set-up, but the point is valid. Dubuffet was busy inventing lo-fi on his own terms in 1961. “All spheres of the arts could benefit from using simpler techniques,” he states with conviction. “I also believe that art does not need to be refined. I am all for wild and unaffected charms rather than frills and furbelows.”

The music you hear has plenty of wild charms…but look at the photographs by Jean Weber reprinted in the booklet here, apparently 1 showing the creator at work blowing trumpets, bassoons, horns, wielding a violin bow in unconventional manner, and pursuing the craft of generating his unusual sounds. What I like here is that Dubuffet is impeccably dressed throughout, with his cardigan buttoned, his tie neatly drawn up against his white collar, and his trousers newly-pressed with razor-sharp creases (and look at those great turn-ups!). At all times, his face bears the mark of a creator taking the work absolutely seriously. 2. It adds quite a lot to the experience looking at these images of poise, grace and sartorial elegance while listening to the music on the discs, all of which is completely loopy.

This particular release compliments the 1991 CD released on the French Circé label in 1991, and reissued on the Mandala label in 1996. But that contained only nine of the 20 pieces originally recorded; here are the remaining eleven cuts. Before this, there was a 1973 release by Ilhan Mimaroglu on his Finnadar label, although the music was originally released in 1961 as an art edition of 60 copies, pressed on six 10-inch vinyl LPs.

  1. It’s possible these images are “posed” after the event, i.e. they don’t depict the actual recording / creation process, but they’re still great.
  2. I am reminded of footage of the great sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who always turned up in the studio dressed in a jacket and tie; none of that scruffy blue-jeans look for these dapper pre-war Europeans, a trend which I suppose came later with slouches like Jackson Pollock.

Reflexion Interior

The item Eins Bis Sechzehn (CRONICA 069-2012) is by the sound artist Ephraim Wegner and the visual artist Julia Weinmann, with their audio and visual snapshots of old ruined hotels. Presumably they wander about these collapsing edifices while no-one is looking and operate their capture devices before a wedge of plaster falls on their heads. They present the finished work as a fairly short CD – just six tracks of field recordings – and a portfolio of full-colour photographs, very well printed and some of them folding out into friezes. Although at first glance / listen we may think we’re facing a rather empty and desolate set of surroundings, in fact there are minimal traces of human endeavour and past lives embedded in the recordings. We can hear something bumping about like the ghost of a portly man settling into a sofa or furniture removers operating a service lift. Also other signs of life, like birds twittering outside or the distant seashore. Evocative and airy, it’s quite a benign undertone here, and clearly not directed by Stanley Kubrick in the ruins of the Overlook Hotel while furrowing his beetling brow. I’m very much reminded of Michael J. Schumacher and his 2003 release Room Pieces – this one seems to be poking around in similar enigmatic blank zones. I haven’t read their lengthy explanation in the notes though, as I suspect it’s trying to overstretch a simple idea with one too many “resonances”.

Another nice printed book + CD package is GROC 1912-2012 (SONORIDAD AMARILLA) and may have emerged from a music festival in Sant Sebastia. Mostly printed in Spanish with English translations. Miguel A Garcia is involved, and so are Artur Vidal, Coco Moya and Alicia Grueso. The book is a puzzling set of fragmented texts, alongside equally baffling but very direct monochrome images, making me feel I’m wandering through a conceptual art exhibit from 1970s England rather than flipping the pages of a book. The CD is even more opaque, short tracks where nothing is really explained but which sound like captured output from the most avant-garde radio station ever to have escaped the attention of the authorities. There’s a gorgeous “distant” quality; you can almost see tiny figures moving about inside a small surreal TV set glowing with yellow light. Things may become clearer if you read the texts while listening. The book is a libretto, structured like scenes from a play (with very strange stage directions), and it’s possible to interpret everything as the soundtrack to a performance of a gently absurd drama, almost as empty as a Beckett drama, but without the despair. The creators are aiming at a certain open-ended framework so that the performance can “project into the viewer’s imagination”, and there are hints at painterly sensibilities at work what with the fleeting Kandinsky reference, and the fact that Groc translates from Catalan as “yellow”. It’s to everyone’s credit here that so much can be expressed in a small, compacted package, and this beguiling little gem will grow on all those who own it and live with it.

Segments (EM002) is the second release from Emitter Micro, the German label who sent us the 2 (3) Incomplete Triptychs cassette in a clear box. As HiFi / LoNoise, the trumpeter Louis Laurain is joined by the electronics of Pierce Warnecke for 21 minutes of thoroughly abstracted sound – starting as puffy blankets of “reduced improv” minimalism, then exploding into a more full-bodied broth of amplified buzziness. Evidence of strong concentration and focus from both players here. Has a refreshing “raw” quality; untreated surfaces which you could use as building blocks in modular self-assembly furniture, and transform your living quarters.

I’ll confess I’m struggling slightly to derive much meat from the wispy melodic bones of Twilight Peaks (SMERALDINA-RIMA 20), a Robbie Basho release which was reissued by the Belgian Smeraldina-Rima label in 2012. This may be because it was originally an unabashed New Age release, issued in 1985 by a New York organisation called The Relaxation Company on their Vital Body Marketing label, and existed as a cassette with a bland cover of soothing dimensions and packaged as “Rich & lyrical solo guitar”. Basho had his own reasons for treading the New Age music path; one possible motivation could have been that his music didn’t catch on as expected with the “folk music” audience, and by the mid-1980s when it seemed that New Age music was in the ascendancy, he decided to hitch his wagon to that twinkly star. Maybe it’s time for this overlooked genre to undergo some form of reappraisal. The writers Richard Osborn and Glenn Jones, who provide the notes to this release, need no such persuading and they write from the depths of their own experience; Jones, who produced this reissue from original tapes, was a friend of Basho and articulates the beauty and value of this music well, making a good case in a sympathetic manner. After all it’s fair to say that Basho has not sacrificed an iota of his skill or artistry here, and there’s still the focus and precision in the playing that characterises his earlier music. The overall saminess of the sound, and its rather thin over-processed patina, may start to grow wearisome to the ears after a while, but that’s the central paradox of this item; it might be a rare case of high art hidden within a bland and commercialised genre. This reissue adds three tracks not on the original cassette, including two live cuts; these live recordings have escaped the cosseting effects of the original studio production and have a slightly rougher edge; these extra 12 minutes may make all the difference to you if you’re considering adding this to your Basho collection. Tremendous cover art, but it’s a little bit misleading as to the musical content.